In an important move to protect workers, this week Georgia’s parliament adopted sweeping amendments to the country’s labor code. The reforms regulate such crucial issues as work hours, overtime, night shifts, weekly rest, daily breaks, and perhaps most importantly, they strengthen the labor inspectorate by granting it more independence and widening its mandate.
The reforms seek to close the major gaps in worker protections created by more than a decade of radical deregulation in Georgia. In an effort to attract foreign investment, in 2006, Georgia abolished its Labor Inspectorate and dramatically reduced worker protections. Workers paid a high price. One independent study found that deaths at work had soared by 74 percent since 2006, mostly in mining and construction.
Although Georgia re-established its labor inspection in 2015, it had a very limited mandate to address issues related to health and safety, but not labor rights.
Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report showed how weak labor protections, together with limited government oversight, fostered dangerous mining practices. For example, because labor legislation did not mandate adequate time off, some employees worked 84-hour weeks, instead of 40 or 48 hours established in law. Workers in some manganese mines worked 12-hour shifts underground, including at night, for 15 straight days, with no formal breaks during shifts, resulting in exhaustion and increasing the likelihood of workplace accidents and injuries. Our research showed the direct link between labor rights and health and safety of workers, and the need for the Labor Inspectorate to have a mandate to address the broader impact of long working hours, production pressures, and difficult working conditions.
The reforms mean employers have to inform workers about overtime work a week in advance whenever possible, and provide overtime pay together with a monthly salary. Work hours for people working in hazardous conditions at night should not exceed 8 hours per 24 hours. The reforms also introduce 60-minute breaks for workdays that are more than 6 hours. And the reforms authorize the Labor Inspectorate to monitor all labor standards guaranteed under Georgian legislation.
Other labor issues still need to be addressed, and the reform’s success will depend on its implementation. But, when the reformed labor code goes into effect on January 1, 2021, it will be a big step in the right direction for workers in Georgia.